REVIEW: Hot Orange Big Band & Richard Smith at Pizza Express Jazz Club

The Hot Orange Big Band
Photo credit: Dick Williams

Hot Orange Big Band & Richard Smith
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, July 24th 2016. Review by Ben Zucker)

For their debut gig at the Pizza Express Soho club, Richard Pywell and Dave Hammer’s well-established London group Hot Orange Big Band brought an energy that the low-ceilinged venue could barely contain (the lunching audience definitely enjoyed the intensity). Augmented by several guests, the large ensemble brought its characteristic brand of high-voltage soul and jazz to a Sunday afternoon.

The band plays to its strengths — funky mid-tempo numbers that allow intricate arrangements to shine with punchy ensemble playing. Though their set at Pizza Express contained nods to swinging and balladic jazz, the straight numbers were the ones that got the crowd going, occasionally contrived but generally expertly plumbed-in originals and covers including numbers by Rufus (Rags to Rufus)and Earth, Wind, and Fire. These included several stand-out soloists including Frank Griffith bringing plenty of burning ‘out’ tension on tenor sax, Ben Donnelly with a fluid alto sax feature, and a showstopping set of drum breaks by Paul Caviaciuti.

Dave Hammer directing the band
Photo credit: Dick Williams

Much of this took place, however, alongside and behind the featured guest artist, guitarist Richard Smith. Simultaneously refined and rocking, Smith’s prowess as a jazz and contemporary player in the manner of guitarists such as George Benson is undisputed. He has a adept command of feel-good soul styles, and his sound is well-rounded and filled in the cracks of the band’s sharp horns with a few well-defined gestures. Some may deride Smith’s brand of “smooth jazz”, but in this context it was clear that the style can be as nuanced as those adored by purists. He and Hot Orange are a symbiotic match, and bring out the best in each other.

Soloing: Richard Smith (L) and Frank Griffith (R)
Photo credit: Dick Williams

LINK: Hot Orange Big Band website

Categories: miscellaneous

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